Switched On – The Orb: Abolition of the Royal Familia (Cooking Vinyl)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Orb need no introduction of course, being long familiar to admirers of ambient music since 1988. Theirs is an ever-changing line-up, orbiting the one constant of the equation, Dr Alex Paterson, and on this, their 17th studio album, Michael Rendall is elevated to the top table. He joins Paterson at the controls for a record including a number of starry guest turns.

Regular collaborators Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy (aka System 7) and Youth appear, alongside Roger Eno, David Harrow of On-U Sound, and – this being The Orb – a four legged friend, the Paterson pooch Ruby.

The album takes as its lead the royal family’s nod to the East India Company and its opium trade – both an inspiration and a protest against a movement causing two wars between India and China in the 18th and 19th centuries.

What’s the music like?

Lovely. There is little sense of explicit protest, and the guests all fit in to the overall mood seamlessly. The Orb have a very happy knack for matching quantity with quality, and even though it is barely a year since their last outing, Abolition of the Royal Familia sounds fresh and very much at ease in its own company.

At 77 minutes it’s a good stretch, but that gives the listener even more room to drift in and out of focus if required. Working together as Paterson and Rendall do means the door is never closed to a variety of styles and, very happily, humour too.

The speed with which Daze slips into a comfortable groove might surprise, a lead on which House of Narcotics and Hawk King build with their chugging beats. The latter displays The Orb’s familiar ambient house credentials as well as paying affectionate tribute to one of their most famous fans.

Gradually the tracks pan out and we experience more horizontal musical thoughts. Spacious intros provide warmth on a Californian scale, the listener allowed to bathe in consonant harmonies that drift back and forward like the ebbing of the tide. Shape Shifters (In Two Parts) goes further, adding a dreamy trumpet solo from 17-year old Oli Cripps, who Paterson met in his local record shop.

Also easing into the long form bracket is The Weekend It Rained Forever, a spacey, piano-led number towards the end, proving the ideal foil for the clattering breakbeats of The Queen Of Hearts preceding it.

Happily the band’s trademark collage of samples will make you smile, despite the inevitable rejection of a Prince Charles number. “We are WNBC”, begins Afros, Afghans and Angels, “the West Norwood Broadcasting Corporation. Streaming live to you whoever, wherever and whatever you are.” Yet a surprising and devastating payoff is saved for the finish. “Stay in your homes, do not attempt to contact loved ones or attorneys”, runs the key refrain of Slave Till U Die No Matter What U Buy, the Jello Biafra homage unintentionally marking itself out as an isolation anthem for our time.

Does it all work?

Yes. It is arguably too long, but with music like this duration is much less of an issue, especially with plenty going on around the perimeter on headphones. Certainly seasoned Orb followers will not see it as a problem. It could also be argued that Abolition of the Royal Familia does not introduce anything particularly new – again, not a problem, since The Orb always know how to reach those ambient parts few others can reach.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Abolition of the Royal Familia falls seamlessly into line alongside the recent additions to The Orb’s cannon, and has many moments of genuine bliss. It is like a sonic warm bath at either end of a trying day.

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Switched On – BVDUB: Ten Times The World Lied (Glacial Movements)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Life begins at forty, goes the saying – but that is the figure on which Brock Van Wey, or BVDUB as he is better known in musical circles, is closing in. That’s forty albums, too, an astonishing achievement when you consider the consistency of his ability to write pure musical ambience that also touches the heart.

Van Wey’s fifth for the Glacial Movements label has a provocative title, especially in these testing times for the world against which he rails. It has a powerful order to it as well – ten tracks, each of them recorded on the tenth of the month, recording ending ten months after it began.

For the first time Van Wey dispenses with vocals, letting his electronics and sound files do the talking.

What’s the music like?

Ten Ways The World Lied is incredibly descriptive, and also profoundly moving if heard at the right time and place. The slow moving musical motifs are often cast in the midst of thick, ambient clouds, yet there is a deep set feeling too that connects them closely to the earth.

Van Wey’s layered approach has a keen sonic beauty on headphones or on big speaker systems, the textures swirling closely around the listener but also allowing for an expanse of vast space.

Despite the titles there is no obvious protest element to the music, though it does feel very closely connected to primal and natural forms. Not Yours To See is underwritten by a lovely piano line, while Not Yours To Give sounds like a distant choir. Not Yours To Find is very richly textured, the sounds floating, while Not Yours To Keep pans out further, moving slowly but surely before a warmer swirl of sounds near the end.

Not Yours To Take keeps the soft harmonies but adds a lovely heat haze, and while Not Yours To Rule is similarly warm Not Yours To Break provides the ultimate resolution, a warm breeze that gradually settles on a beautifully held note.

Does it all work?

Yes. Once again BVDUB secures the deceptively difficult combination of simplicity and powerful expression, through musical content that moves slowly but can prove to be completely hypnotic and calming.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. An excellent collection of a producer who has been a deserved mainstay of electronica’s top table for more than two decades, and whose music can cover a wide selection of dancefloors. It should encourage listeners to delve even further into his considerable early output. I know I will!

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Switched On – NETHERWORLD: Algida Bellezza (Glacial Movements)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

There is a deeply personal story behind the composition of Algida Bellezza. The man behind NETHERWORLD is the founder of Glacial Movements, Alessandro Tedeschi, and he wrote the core music of the album, which loosely translates as ‘frozen beauty’, in 2015. Each of the five ‘movements’ were born – literally – as he cradled his new daughter. In June 2019 the music was mixed and mastered by Tedeschi’s good friend, sound engineer Matteo Spinazzè Savaris – and the completed album ready for release.

As the cover would suggest it is a great example of Tedeschi’s chilly ambience, which this time takes the all-important Greenland sled dog as its principal focus. The titles of the five tracks all relate to a prominent species of the area – respectively Vulpes lagopus (Arctic Fox), Somniosus microcephalus (Greenland Shark), Orcinus orca (Orca), Monodon monoceros (Narwhal) and Ursus maritimus (Polar Bear).

What’s the music like?

Tedeschi has a way of working that is both ambient but incredibly intense too. The five soundscapes here are characterised by thick textures that resemble weather systems, each putting forward prominent melodic features that work in slowly orbiting loops.

Vulpes lagopus is large in scope, the arctic fox taking very slow, recurring musical breaths, establishing ‘D’ as a tonal base but allowing for other thoughts too. Somniosus microcephalus is almost claustrophobic, its profile like that of a big ocean liner or an incredibly dense cloud with small musical points of reference to hang on to. It effectively wraps the listener in a comforting swathe of cotton wool.

Orcinus orca captures the good and the bad of the killer whale, the passage of a large body expertly portrayed but also its foreboding and potentially inflammatory nature. Monodon monoceros – like the narwhal it portrays – is slower and gentler, the music dominated by soft minor key chords.

Finally Ursus maritimus matches the white of the polar bear, with a lovely sound the listener can really dive into. Tedeschi uses a big bass drum and cymbal effect akin to large waves crashing in the near foreground, before the music settles onto a long sustained note and ultimately settles to rest – even hibernation.

Does it all work?

Yes. Tedeschi brings remarkable depth to his compositions, a blend of easy on the ear ambience and cautionary harmonies that imply everything on the surface is not as comfortable as it seems. This is cold, wintry music that moves slowly, best summarised in visual terms like an icebreaker in the Antarctic – but also managing to portray the five different species in the track titles.

Knowing of Tedeschi’s connection to his little girl only heightens the emotional impact of the music.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Despite its difficult title, Algida Bellezza is typical of Glacial Movements’ output. It works for listeners approaching it from the electronic side but also the classical, where listeners will appreciate the natural, stately development of its ideas. Crucially it is also incredibly ambient and immersive!

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Switched On – Line Spectrum: Bruma (Glacial Movements)

What’s the story?

On their website Glacial Movements describe Bruma as ‘an album of exploration. Somewhere cold and safe’. It is the work of Ukrainian artist Oleg Puzan, whose approach is less obviously musical, building sound pictures through a massive array of small figures and bigger, weather-like effects.

What’s the music like?

Atmospheric. You will not find much in the way of obvious melody or harmony, but that is not a criticism, more an observation of the way Puzan works. The development of each of the five tracks on the album is strangely compelling, though each are closely linked together, the change between tracks coming at very definite time divisions. Although Bruma – which appears to mean a kind of sleep or hibernation – seems set to function as background music its very different textures and panoramas mean it has to be listened to in the foreground, dominating the headphones as it moves from comforting sounds to more ominous drones that approach from the distance.

A Set Of Events At The Shore, evocatively titled, is the first track, and as outlined above it is all about atmosphere and noise, creating a space with running water and natural noises – but compromising it with a not altogether pleasant drone that makes itself known quite high up the spectrum.

An intense experience on headphones, with some thick ambience but also what feels like white noise and interference as Fabric Merge progresses. No melodies as such but concentrated atmospheres. Ways gets thicker still, but the ambience and cold acoustic is more reassuring, and one that as a listener you want to dive into, with a rich chord growing to encompass the whole audible picture. The fourth track, Fluidity, has the flow of cold water in a regular pattern to sooth the mind, leading to the 15-minute final track Quietness. This is comforting but only to a point,with a disquieting sense of danger around the edge, as though you’re in a place you don’t want to get marooned in.

Does it all work?

Yes, providing you’re in the right mood. Some of the more high pitched sounds do actually become challenging after a while, but are essential to the whole experience.

Is it recommended?

Yes, because of the intensity of its ambience, though the manipulation of the many sounds on Bruma will not be to every listener’s taste.

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On record: FRAME – The Journey (Glacial Movements)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Journey is a set of ten soundscapes focusing on silence. Silence is of course as integral a part of music as the notes themselves, and FRAME – a project started in the 1990s by Eugenio Vatta and Andrea Benedetti – illustrate that beautifully here.

All of the music on this hour-long album is written by Vatta, and is in effect a compilation with Benedetti of FRAME live shows, where their music has followed the evolution of a movie. Their principle is that the album should focus on silence in space, and it does so in ten parts, each named after a planet of the solar system.

What’s the music like?

The idea of music focusing on silence might seem contradictory, but what it does here is focus the mind on the smallest of changes to the overall sound, if you’re listening closely – or, if you’re using the music more in the background, allowing it to evolve without any expectations or pressure. So it is that textures change slowly, like a slow moving body, with long held notes and textures that project an enormous sense of space.

Like Holst, Frame move through the planets in order of distance from the sun – unlike Holst they progress at a sedentary rate, with no surprises but cool, starlit textures to dive into on the way. Also unlike Holst, there is a section for ‘Earth’, so the listener can effectively take the role of a spacecraft flying past. It is mostly calming but there are moments of disquiet near the centre when discords and an insistent lower range tone make the ears retreat on instinct. ‘Mars’ is also a polar opposite, less the god of war than the owner of a very thick sonic blanket. It’s lovely.

‘Jupiter’ has a lot more of the action, as though our craft is passing close enough to get caught up in some of the vast winds that dominate the planet’s weather. ‘Saturn’ is genuinely unsettling, a short piece whose sudden movements of pitch are difficult to comprehend after the serene journey so far. ‘Neptune’ is majestic, a really strong linear wall of harmony. After some more turbulence in Pluto and Charon the arrival is consonant harmony, and represents a natural point of rest.

Does it all work?

Yes, providing ‘The Journey’ is experienced in the right environment. As an aid for busy situations such as commuting it works really well, or as a meditative hour for the brain to zone out. The cool textures are easy on the ear, but while ambience is the key there is a deeply intense heart to this music.

All these components are typical of a Glacial Movements release, with a whole that operates in an ambient space but can be put to meaningful foreground use also.

Is it recommended?

Yes. FRAME’s music takes the listener far from their own shores, immersing them in a wide open world of slow moving beauty.

Further listening

You can listen to The Journey on Spotify below:

Meanwhile the album is available from the Glacial Movements Bandcamp page, where the label’s consistently rewarding catalogue can also be explored.